Stalked by the GTC;Leading Article;Opinion

21st May 1999 at 01:00
It was Tom Stoppard who said, of the House of Lords, that it was an institution that had "responsibility without power - the prerogative of the eunuch through the ages".

Officials at the Teacher Training Agency must, from time to time, have felt similarly powerless. Since its creation in 1994 the agency has been charged with achieving three objectives which have sometimes seemed to be incompatible: solving perhaps the deepest recruitment crisis in the profession's history; setting higher standards for entrants to the profession; and promoting a career seen as badly lacking in status, remuneration and prospects.

Its difficulties have been compounded by the fact that it has little control over the key levers of power which could make its job easier. Ministers keep a tight grip on education policy, and the School Teachers' Review Body controls pay. Even in the area of funding and accreditation of initial teacher training, where the agency's pound;150 million annual budget gives it real clout, it must rely on inspection advice from the Office for Standards in Education.

Given this difficult brief, the agency must be breathing a sigh of relief that it has survived the Department for Education's review of its functions, and retained its core responsibilities for teacher recruitment, and for funding initial training.

But for how long? The outcome of the review means that two key areas of responsibility - professional development and the training of headteachers - will be handed over to the department. This is clearly part of the Government's strategy to link the improvement of teaching and leadership skills with its Green Paper plans to modernise the profession and reward good teaching.

Ultimately, responsibility for headship training will be transferred to the National College for School Leadership. The college, together with the soon-to-be-established general teaching council, will take a lead in raising professional standards and providing informed advice to ministers.

Where will this leave the TTA? One hopes that ministers are genuine in their wish (see page 15) to create "a strong, united voice for the profession". If so, there is surely every reason to expect that, in time, the GTC will take over the agency's responsibilities for recruitment and training.

Unlike the TTA - an unelected quango - a successful teaching council will have real authority to speak its mind. Will ministers dare to give it real power?

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